eduKALB and moderated by Steen Miles was sparsely attended, but very interesting.
The only incumbent to show up was Zepora Roberts. Ms. Miles informed us that she and Zepora are active members of the same church, which was nice to know up front. The other participants were Nancy Jester and Bobbe Gillis (District 1), Dr. Kirk Nooks (District 5), Donna Edler, Willie Mosely and Zepora Roberts (District 7) and Ella Smith (District 9).
Basically, Nancy Jester and Dr. Kirk Nooks rocked! Donna Edler was a stand-out as well and Ella Smith did a terrific job of honestly answering all of Steen's questions, even after Steen nearly wrapped up the forum without addressing Ella at all. Ella made the point that she is a teacher and has always been in education, either as a student or teacher. She honestly spoke of her weakness in math, but stated that she would consult people with strong math skills to help her navigate the massive school budget (her husband, an Emory math major was one of her consultants). I know Ella as she has been a contributor to this blog since early on, researching DCSS spending with Kim Gokce (click here to read their report). Ella has a very good heart for children and a knowledge of what really works in the classroom. What she lacks in math skills, she more than makes up for in a good internal moral compass and an ability to make decisions using the criteria of what is best for children.
But Nancy! She showed up with laminated charts! She clued us in to the fact that since the inception of NCLB, we have 'risen' from 14% of schools not making AYP to 44% of schools not making AYP! (And to think that Dr. Lewis continued to give Ms. Audria Berry, the director of student improvement, substantial raises!) Nancy is a money whiz, having undergrad and graduate degrees in finance and she can drill down to the core basics with a laser-like focus. We really need a brain like Nancy's on the board, IMO.
That said, Bobbi Gillis is quite a nice lady, but she didn't have very detailed answers other than to say that we need to educate the children and run the school system like a corporation. I didn't get a sense that she had a well-formed platform yet. I would say the same for Willie Mosely. Very nice man, but not exactly what we need right now. He was very rigid about things like discipline (zero tolerance) and parental involvement in the classroom, but not very well-versed in school operations. He kept saying that students need to watch, listen and learn.
Zepora, in all of her denial of current events, rested on her past laurels, stating that she has been very involved in schools since the beginnings of desegregation and the Supreme Court ruling for DeKalb that hog-tied the system for over 25 years. She actually said we need to "keep the current proven leadership - experience does count!" I kid you not - she said that. I will grant her that perhaps her kind of leadership was valuable during the segregation days, but we are ten years into a new millennium and to refer to the current board as "effective leadership" is astoundingly disengaged.
But back to Dr. Nooks - impressive! District 5 voters are very lucky to have him running for their district seat. He was detailed, visionary, articulate and confident but grounded. He wanted to find out exactly how Cobb managed to spend $100 million more in the classroom than DeKalb, even though they have fewer students. He advocated for a transparent and inclusive search for a new superintendent, better communication with the community and better technology in the classroom. He wanted to look at charters to see what is working for them and how we might replicate those actions to begin removing barriers for regular public schools. He said we need to put the right people, in the right seats, on the right bus, at the right time, making the right decisions. I agree!
And Donna Edler embellished this idea by stating that DeKalb can serve as an example of how to turn around a failing urban school district. Edler was very poised, and came across as quite smart - a CPA, she is well-versed in finance. She made a very important point when asked about reducing the size of the board - she said that it doesn't matter how many members there are, as long as they have the proper tenor and bring a professional attitude. She reiterated that we have the opportunity to make a big change - voters, please do it!
I will close with a quote from one of our regular contributors:
Regardless if you support old blood or new on the board, to win a seat takes money. Candidates need to reach out and share their views with voters who actually show up at the polls (and may not be following this or any other school related blog).
It will be interesting to see the September 30 required Campaign Disclosure Reports. At this point neither the incumbents nor their challengers have received much funding. If you're serious about supporting the DeKalb County public school system, you need to step up soon with your checkbook.
To find out more on the candidates, click on the ballot box on the right side panel of the home page.
To read about the eduKALB forum hosted last week in South DeKalb, click here.